28 April 2022 – Minutes
THAME TOWN COUNCIL
Minutes of the Meeting of Thame Town Council held on 28 April 2022 at 6:30pm in the Upper Chamber, Town Hall, Thame.
Cllrs B Austin, P Cowell (Town Mayor), A Dite, L Emery, H Fickling, and H Richards
M Sturdy, Town Clerk
G Markland, Neighbourhood Plan Continuity Officer
L Fuller, Committee Services Officer
J Herbert, Troy Planning
1 Apologies for Absence
Apologies for absence were received from Cllrs Bretherton (personal), Champken-Woods (personal), Deacock (personal), Dodds (personal), Dyer (personal), Gregory (personal), Jones (personal), Midwinter (personal) and Wyse (personal).
2 Declarations of Interest and Dispensations
There were no declarations of interest.
3 Public Participation and Public Questions
There were no applications to address the Council.
There were no questions put to the Council.
4 Thame Neighbourhood Plan Revision (TNP2)
Mr. Jon Herbert of Troy Planning (TP) provided a presentation summarising the findings of the second TNP2 consultation, which ran from December 2021 to February 2022, in terms of housing and employment land allocation preferences and feedback on wider ideas and projects.
There had been an excellent response to the consultation with over 900 responses and more than 200 people attending the drop-ins. Around 90% of respondents were from Thame, with the remainder from surrounding villages, site promotors or authorities. It was noted that two of the housing site promotors had produced their own consultation material during this consultation, which may have had an effect.
With regards to employment, of the two sites consulted on (Rycote Lane and Howland Road) there was a clear preference (65%) for the Rycote Lane due to its strategic location on the highways network, and siting away from residential areas but close to existing employment land. It was noted that the Howland Road site was larger and had the potential to expand in the future if employment needs grew.
In terms of housing, over 1,100 responses were received showing that some respondents submitted more than one preference. The findings show a preference (42%) for the Oxford Road site. The preferences for the other sites were 24% (Land South of Moreton Lane), 18% (Highfields) and 16% (Land East of Thame).
A summary of the reasons for these preferences was given. The Oxford Road site was the preferred site given its siting adjacent to recent new development and within the ring road which would not encroach on the countryside and supports the vision of a compact town. Concerns were raised with regards to the flood risk, impact on the Cuttle Brook, and possible noise impacts from the ring road. Mr. Herbert advised that flood risk would be addressed through the design phase of the site.
Land South of Moreton Lane would provide a continuation of development from the first Thame Neighbourhood Plan, however there were concerns about encroachment into Moreton and access arrangements. Respondents had similar concerns regarding the Highfields site, as well as it not being part of the existing built-up area in Thame, it does have good access to Lord Williams’s Upper School and the Phoenix Trail. The Land East of Thame would breach the ring road, encroach on the countryside, and was thought removed from the town centre. Responses were also received that reiterated support for other sites (Cattle Market, Reserve Site C) that had been consulted on in the first consultation.
In terms of site allocations for the draft plan, it was emphasised that this cannot be determined for either housing or employment until the outcome of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) work is known. It was also recommended for both housing and employment that TNP2 include criteria-based policies to address windfall developments in the future.
Following work by the Neighbourhood Plan Continuity Officer (NPCO) and taking into account windfall sites, the housing allocation for Thame is now closer to 256 rather than 339 as set out in the District’s Local Plan. Subject to the outcome of the SEA work, this could be met through a series of smaller sites (Windmill Road, Reserve Site C, Diagnostic Reagents, and Cattle Market) and the preferred housing site at Oxford Road.
In terms of employment land allocation, the preferred site at Rycote Lane (4.4hectares) is larger than the 3.5hectares required in the Local Plan, although there is still some debate on the actual requirement and further work is being undertaken in this regard. Through the Locality Neighbourhood Plan Support Package, design work is being undertaken to look at how sites can respond to their context, for example the Rycote Lane site is an open setting and a gateway to Thame and the Howland Road site is nearer to residential properties.
With regards to other ideas, policies and projects, there was a strong response and good support, with some uncertainty on mobility hubs, perhaps as a newer idea and concept.
Overall, the second consultation had shown a clear preference for the housing and employment land allocations, however this is subject to the outcome of the SEA and employment land review. A skeleton structure for the plan had been drafted and circulated, and Troy Planning will be working on the non-site-specific sections within that. In terms of a timeline, once the SEA had been received, it was hoped that this could be embedded into a draft plan for an extended consultation over the summer. It was hoped that the plan would be at submission at the end of the year.
A question was raised as to whether a full employment needs analysis would be undertaken, and whether the results of this would be included in the draft TNP2? The NPCO advised that there was hesitancy to undertake a traditional employment land review given ongoing uncertainties relating to the impacts of the war in Ukraine, Brexit, Covid-19 and changes to permitted development. As part of the support package offer, AECOM can provide expertise on employment and will be trying to obtain a useful understanding of Thame’s employment needs. The intention is to include the findings of this in the next TNP2 consultation, so the public are presented with a more holistic plan.
Would the next consultation involve a draft plan? Mr. Herbert advised this would depend on the timing of the SEA findings, however it was hoped that the draft plan would be presented through the Council’s committee cycle in June for consultation in August and September. The consultation would be similar to the previous one, with a combination of drop-in events and consultation with statutory consultees and surrounding parishes. If the SEA findings are favourable, then it would be possible for this consultation to be the statutory six-week Regulation 14 Consultation. This would inform the next consultation ahead of submitting the plan to South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) for examination, so there will be at least two more consultations prior to submission.
Clarification was sought on what the SEA would involve and whether the Town Council could request that additional surveys are undertaken with regards to flood risk on the Oxford Road site? The SEA looks at a series of social, economic, and environmental objectives, which have been subject to consultation with statutory consultees, and wider impacts. The flood risk of the Oxford Road site was acknowledged, and the site promotor has altered their site area in response to improve flood data from the Environment Agency which uses the latest available knowledge and lidar studies. If the SEA identifies issues, then further surveys may be required however the current data was of high quality and resolution. In terms of the risk further down-stream this could be handled through the planning application process if necessary. Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) has good guidance on flood mitigation measures and design to manage surface water runoff.
A question was raised as to when the heights of buildings would be determined for the employment site, particularly given that the Rycote Lane site is a gateway to Thame and prominent from the Thame Valley. Through the Locality Design package, it will be ensured that the sites respond to their settings and character, and that the concepts and layouts of the housing and employment sites are built into TNP2’s policies.
The AECOM report states that Thame is well served by nurseries, but there is a known lack of nursery provision. The NPCO advised that the report was wrong as it had only considered Thame’s population and not recognised it as an important service centre for surrounding parishes. There is a known need for affordable spaces for nurseries. A criteria-based policy within TNP2 could address this, and it was noted that some site promotors had offered a nursery. Nursery provision is not, however, a statutory matter that is forward planned in the same way as school placements. Whilst a nursery was proposed on the Health Hub site (currently subject to a planning application), it was felt that Thame needed more than one new nursery and it should try to address this shortfall through TNP2.
With regards to secondary schools, there was no mention of this within the report. The NPCO advised that OCC handle the provision of secondary schools and it was not a matter for TNP2. Lord Williams’s School is increasing to 12-form entry, and this currently satisfies OCC’s requirement.
The AECOM Housing Needs Assessment report had shown that Affordable Housing in Thame was not affordable for most people in Thame. Therefore, a question was raised as to whether there was anything that TNP2 could do to address this? The AECOM report presented a series of recommendations which will be reflected in TNP2’s policies, and its findings can be used to specify the breakdown of affordable types and tenures which will enable the policies to be more Thame-specific than SODC’s Local Plan. A question was raised as to whether it would be possible to protect some of the Affordable Housing for Thame people rather than the wider South Oxfordshire population? The NPCO advised that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) allowed for some exceptions and homes may be offered to local people in the first instance. The Community Land Trust site was the best opportunity for affordable homes for Thame people in perpetuity. TNP2 could look at the options available and stress the importance of affordable housing. It was noted that the AECOM report had highlighted a high turnover of housing so it was possible that affordable targets could be achieved.
The proposed structure appeared to be light on services and facilities, such as the health hub and community centre, which will be important. Healthcare and education will be developed as more advice is received from OCC. The protection of green open spaces will be carried forward from TNP1 and new open space will be well-designed. Cllr Austin referenced a report he had produced some years ago in consultation with 300 community organisations that showed a total lack of community facilities in Thame. The NPCO advised that this report and its evidence are very valuable. The NPCO welcomed suggestions for changes to the proposed TNP2 structure.
A question was raised as to how TNP2 would manage development outside of the ring road, as there seemed to be some contradiction between retaining development within the bypass whilst both employment site options are outside of it. The Neighbourhood Plan vision has always been clear on keeping Thame compact, with new housing being within 20minutes walking distance of facilities and new communities integrated, and this has been successfully delivered through TNP1. SODC are not in favour of housing development outside of the bypass. It was noted that development to the south of Thame is constrained by the protected Thame Park and development to the east is constrained by the need to protect the landscape between Thame and Towersey. With employment sites, there were only two suitable options and their connection to the strategic road network is important. Within TNP1, the development at Howland Road was close to existing employment use, well-connected to the Phoenix Trail, and the Health Hub proposals had not come forward at that time.
A question was raised as to the future of the site that had previously been identified for the expansion of Lord Williams’s School? Given the archaeological constraints of the site, it would be difficult to develop for housing. If the Oxford Road housing site is progressed through the SEA and included in TNP2, consideration would need to be given to alternative uses for this part of the site in consultation with the developer.
A question was raised as to an update on the call for sites for waste management? The NPCO reported that OCC would be reconsulting, following responses received to the previous consultation and it appeared that residential areas were now unlikely to be affected, however this was a matter for the Minerals and Waste Plan and not TNP2.
A question was raised as to how specific TNP2 would be on non-housing matters to ensure that they are delivered, as some aspects of TNP1 had not been delivered such as cycling provision and riverside walks. Mr. Herbert advised that this was an issue for many neighbourhood planning groups, who have big aspirations, but their policies must be linked to site development and land use proposals. However, the inclusion of specific projects in TNP2 would show they have been identified as a desirable project for Thame and this could assist discussions with OCC regarding their local cycling and walking infrastructure plans. It was also noted that the Green Living Plan is a great and powerful document.
It is frustrating that developer contributions are not received until the homes are occupied, which delays delivery of infrastructure. The NPCO advised that whilst SODC have control as to when money is released, and there have been delays with S106 monies, the Town Council receives Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) on time which can be used on a range of projects.
In conclusion, the draft TNP2 was currently subject to the outcome of the SEA work however the intention was to bring this to the Neighbourhood Plan Continuity Committee in June and then to Full Council, to enable the next consultation to start in the summer.
- Thame Town Council instructs the Neighbourhood Plan Continuity Officer (NPCO) and Troy Planning to produce a draft TNP2 for consultation, prepared with consideration to the previous consultations, published and emerging technical evidence and the proposed content and timeline
The meeting concluded at 7:45pm.
Chairman, 10 May 2022